Thursday 31 May 2012

Colleagues in organising

I'm delighted by, and proud of, the wonderful video (created for us by the superb Media On Demand) of our member conference for apdo-uk a few weeks ago.

Friday 25 May 2012

Hoarder or clutterbug?

I've been watching with a mixture of relief, fascination and horror the recent glut of tv programmes about chronic hoarding problems. In my work as a professional organiser, I can truthfully say that I very seldom come across anybody who is a 'hoarder' in that sense. Plenty of folks have stuff they need help sorting, or storing, or disposing of; some may need help seeing the wood for the trees; some may (as one client memorably put it) just be suffering from 'can't-be-bothered syndrome' (that wasn't her exact expression!).

However, for some people it's a far more serious problem, possibly endangering life and limb. Hoarding is coming to be accepted as a genuine psychological and medical problem, in the same way as (for example) alcoholism may become an unwanted behaviour with true roots and potential treatment. They can't (and shouldn't) be dismissed as 'laziness' or 'malingering'.

I have written at some length about my feelings on the matter, and in my capacity as President of apdo-uk - the Association of Professional Declutterers & Organisers. Our members feel very strongly about the issue, for several reasons.

  • Appreciate what exactly constitutes a hoarder - and when the answers are much simpler and more easily dealt with 
  • Recognise what help is available and where that help can come from
  • From a professional organiser's perspective, to be able to offer appropriate support and assistance - and to know when other interventions are needed beyond those we can offer.

I feel strongly that - as with all unwanted behaviours - we all need to be honest with ourselves: to recognise the help we require, and to seek that help accordingly. Have a look at the article, and see what you think.

Hoarder or Clutterbug? - a reflection

This article was created in May 2012 for APDO - the Association of Professional Declutterers and Organisers.
We have been hearing a lot about hoarding recently. In late 2011, we watched the story of Richard Wallace, the Obsessive Compulsive Hoarder [C4], as the neighbours in his commuter-belt Surrey village moved from disdain and disapproval to a community task-force, providing the man- and woman-power to help him clear many years’ worth of accumulated junk from his garden.
Now, in the spring of 2012, we’ve met several more chronic hoarders. Three consecutive programmes: Get Your House in Order [C4], The Hoarder Next Door [C4], and Britain’s Biggest Hoarders [BBC1].  We are delighted by the valuable roles that were played by two member businesses from apdo-uk: The Declutter Divas, Allyson Pritchard and Zoe Steel, have provided the clutter-clearing support for The Hoarder Next Door, and Heather Matuozzo of Cloud’s End CIC brought her specialised experience of decluttering hoarders to Britain’s Biggest Hoarders.
These programmes have given us the voyeuristic opportunity to take sides. Which was yours?
  • I’m not so bad after all (“found a house worse than ours”)
  • let’s have a good time slagging them off (“Why do people need therapy to throw out their s**t?” “Sort your s**t out, you bone-idle b****”)
  • disbelief (“I can’t believe people live like that”)
  • sympathetic (“a serious and sensitive look at the problem”)
Well, the programmes have all taken a very different approach to the problem. Each has had faults and successes, and I’m not going to dissect these here. Suffice to say that it’s brought into sharp relief some important issues.
What hoarding is not
First: we need to be clear what true hoarding is. We’re not talking a bit messy, a bit dirty, a bit disorganised. Keeping every birthday card you ever received does not make you a hoarder. Having fifty bottles of nail polish does not make you a hoarder. Being unable to locate the car keys or your passport does not make you a hoarder. It might mean that you could use help to make your own life easier or more comfortable; but that is not a chronic condition.
What hoarding is
We’re talking about rooms that cannot be used for their intended purpose: sleeping in an armchair because the bed is buried under belongings; an inability to take a bath because it’s full of possessions; weaving your way through narrow corridors of boxes, or unable to enter a room at all. We’re talking about hazards to health and safety; a house that is not a home but a place to exist, and that without comfort; a building where, in the event of an emergency, the paramedics or fire service would be unable to reach you.
Hoarding is a genuine psychological disorder
Do you accept that alcoholism is an illness? Would you simply say to an alcoholic “It’s easy – just stop drinking”? Do you imagine that an individual would look one day at the effects of excessive alcohol (domestic trauma, huge expenditure, loss of memory, social exclusion, loss of job, family breakup) and say “I like the look of that life, I think I’ll become an alcoholic”?
Do you accept that OCD is an illness? Would you simply say to a sufferer “Stop checking everything”? Do you think that an individual would choose to imprison themselves in a never-ending timetable of checking, washing, ordering, arranging, counting?
People don’t choose to live in dangerously cluttered houses. They have found themselves in these situations for a reason. It might be due to severe trauma, in childhood or adulthood; it might be the influence of parents, whether because they behaved in the same way or were the complete opposite; it might be a reaction to bereavement. There may be links to OCD and other anxiety tendencies. A cumulative sequence of events, a combination of circumstances and physiological makeup, may have brought the sufferer to this place, and it’s not a place they’d have ever chosen to visit.
The recent programmes generated a huge amount of Twitter comment. Much of it showed a judgemental, vicious lack of sensitivity. It was sad to see the more brutal comments (“I don’t think she’s ill, I think she’s just a lazy ******”) – many of which appeared to come from teenagers who have, presumably, never yet encountered an ‘invisible illness’ in their lives. I can only hope, for their own sake, they will some day encounter a problem with unwanted behaviour that’s beyond their control. It might just give them a more compassionate approach to their fellows.
Is there help?
Yes. Provided that the right kind of help is asked for.
Many clients who come to the organising and decluttering industry are not hoarders.
  • They may well have accumulated a lot of ‘stuff’ – all too easy to do in this day and age, which provides us with far more opportunities to buy (and accumulate debt) than in any era before.
  • They may (very commonly) actually have less of a problem with the quantity of ‘stuff’ and more with the processes, storage and systems of their lives: if items don’t have a definite home, they’re more likely to get lost, or to be kept constantly (but inappropriately) in view for fear of loss.
  • They may not know where to begin; the worse a problem with untidiness gets, the less likely we are to see a clear way to solve it. (A bit like weight: two pounds is a lot easier to lose than two stone, but why do most of us [myself included] wait until we reach the latter point before seeking help?)
A chronic hoarder may need additional help.
As was shown on some (not all) of the recent tv coverage, work with a chronic hoarder should not include decluttering without the assistance of therapy. ‘Tidying up’ will not solve a problem unless the underlying causes are identified and addressed.
Therapy is nothing to be ashamed of. It may take one of many forms: help from a psychiatrist or psychologist, life coach, hypnotherapy, CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy), NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming) and many more. One size does not fit all. Anyone who has struggled to lose an unwanted behaviour – smoking, drinking, excess weight – may have tried several routes before finding the one that works for them.
Bullying will not help. Neighbours or family getting angry will not help. Insults will not help.
Whether you are a chronic hoarder or a clutterbug, the professional organising industry can help.
  • We don’t judge.
  • We don’t tell tales out of school.
  • We will work with you, not for you.
  • We won’t make assumptions.
  • We will make recommendations, not prescriptions.
  • We will provide ideas, motivation and inspiration.
  • We won’t chuck it all in a skip (unless you want us to).
  • We will aim for a workable life, not for perfection or minimalism.
  • We will respect you, your life and your belongings.
  • We will recommend other support (such as therapy) if we feel it is appropriate, and if it’s outside our personal skillset.
  • We will bring all our experience of creating order and systems, and select from our toolkit the solutions that are most likely to work for you. If they don’t work, we’ll try something else.
You don’t need to be a chronic hoarder to ask for help.